My Carnatic listening journey through 12 songs

Earlier this year, soon after we went into lock-down, First Edition Arts (FEA) invited me to be part of their ‘Desert Island Series — The Lockdown Sessions’. In a video shared on FEA’s Facebook page, I introduced five renditions of Carnatic compositions, saying a little bit about why each was special to me. That was the final avatar of the exercise. In this post I share an earlier, longer list of 12 renditions, introduced in the written form.

Introduction

I have been very lucky — for as long as I can remember, there has been Carnatic (and Hindustani) music playing at home. And all through childhood, I tagged along with my parents to Carnatic concerts at the Madras Music Academy and with my grandparents to the Gayana Samaja concerts in Bangalore, during the summer holidays. I learned singing for a year before going to Middlebury College in the U.S. for my undergraduate studies in 1997.

1. Balamuralikrishna — Pahi Parvatha Nandini — Arabhi Raga — Swati Tirunal

Balamuralikrishna was an absolute favourite, especially of my father, growing up. The first Carnatic songs I learned to recognize were his signature renditions of Bhadrachala Ramadas’s Paluke Bangaramayanna and Thyagaraja’s Seetha Kalyana Vaibhogame. He had such a reputation in the household that once when unwell on summer vacation in Bangalore, I refused to be taken to the doctor. I insisted on being treated by “Dr. Balamuralikrishna”, or by no one at all. Luckily, the sickness wasn’t life threatening.

2. Maharajapuram Santhanam — Rama Ninnu Nammina — Mohanam Raga — Thyagaraja

Until my last years of schooling, my consumption of Carnatic music had been largely osmotic. It is around this time that Music Today came out with a slew of beautifully produced albums of Carnatic and Hindustani music. This recording is from its Maestro’s Choice series and was part of my mother’s tape collection. The Music Today recordings were different not just because of the quality of its recordings, but the overall care in production. For instance, this song was accompanied with a small note from Maharajapuram Santhanam explaining that he had chosen this composition because it was a favourite of his father and guru Maharajapuram Vishwanatha Iyer and because his father was famous for expositions in the raga Mohanam. This intimate titbit immediately predisposed me to both the singer and the song.

Credit: https://www.discogs.com/Maharajapuram-Santhanam-Maestros-Choice-Series-One-Maharajapuram-V-Santhanam/release/1827568

I write mainly about my experience as a listener of Carnatic music.